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Alpine Angling: scenes from secluded high country waters

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Mountain sports photographer Ben Gavelda sneaks up high for some good-ole fashioned trout fishing in America

Story and photos by Ben Gavelda

A lid of clouds prowls over mountain peaks in predawn light. Rocky walls cradle a small basin of blue green water and sandy-hued shore. Coats of fog swirl in the mountain valleys below. Aquatic invertebrate glide along the shores, searching for a meager morsel in this unforgiving mountain pool. Two weary eyed  fishermen pick their lines from the shore.


Journeying to remote waters and weathering the unpredictable alpine climate can be equally as challenging as luring a Colorado Greenback cutthroat trout from its home. Backcountry fly shing is an excuse to go backpacking. Fly shing is simply a camp activity and combining the two is just a way to explore the San Juan Mountains. The beauty of chasing fish with faux flies in the Colorado high country lies in the scene, the process and the chance encounter with a rare and beautiful creature.

A number of the isolated lakes on Colorado’s Western Slope contain native cutthroat trout. These locales are some of the few holdouts for the of offcial state fish, a threatened breed whose waters have been overrun by brooks, browns, rainbows or hybridized cutbows. A brief encounter with one is a reward after trudging through the forest with a heavy pack. Their ruby red-tinged throats and stark markings are a gem among the pale earthen-toned surroundings, and a reminder of the fragile beauty and balance of our natural world.

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